North Central Area Transit officials haven't seen much of an increase with the Saturday routes and Peoria trips, but they will keep them up at least until the summer.
They’re also encouraged by noticing more people are becoming aware of the service and may add extended hours during the week as well as routes in other cities should there be a demand.
Saturday route and Peoria trips to continue despite lower numbers
Executive Director Kim Zimmerman said they started offering Saturday routes through Ottawa from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. through a partnership with the Community Food Basket of Ottawa.
The two have extended that partnership for an additional six months.
The business has seen around 31 riders over the past six months, not including those who take the route to access the Community Food Basket at Southtowne Mall who are able to ride for free. That's a drop from their average of around 15 to 20 riders a day during the week.
“The numbers aren’t as good as maybe we were hoping,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said it’s difficult to determine if the lack of riders is due to a lack of awareness of the availability of a Saturday route or that people’s habits change on the weekends.
She said they haven’t marketed the Saturday service much outside of social media.
“But it also might be that (NCAT riders) are in the habit of not getting out on Saturday,” Zimmerman said.
They’ve seen a similar trend with scheduled trips to Peoria. They’ve made the trip 18 times since introducing it earlier this year but Zimmerman expects use will increase and doubts the service will stop offering it because it’s offered on a by-demand basis. That means they aren’t traveling to Peoria unless someone has already scheduled a trip.
Zimmerman said the turnout for both services is a little disappointing and a higher turnout would mean more hours for the route on Saturday, but they haven’t ruled out future trips to Joliet if there’s enough of a demand.
Ridership in the winter months tends to decrease, but on a whole ridership is increasing as the years continue.
Ridership in September last year was down a couple of hundred from the prior months, but total ridership increase by 300 rides from November 2017 to 2018, according to their records.
More weekday hours and other city routes are being considered
Zimmerman said adding more hours during the week and potentially routes in other cities are a more likely expansion of services in the future.
Currently, the bus service ends its route at 4 p.m., which can be difficult for those looking to use the service after they get off work, which is why the service will conduct research to see if it would be cost-effective to remain on the roads until 6 p.m.
The bus service also partners with Illinois Valley Community Hospital in Peru and travels in the La Salle-Peru area frequently as well as Streator.
Zimmerman said they hope to produce a feasibility study to determine if a city-route in either community would be beneficial.
“It’s definitely needed and our buses are in Streator constantly,” Zimmerman said. “I definitely think personally (there’s a need), I just need data.”